Setbacks

Detour, Sign, Warning, Right, Arrow, Roadsign
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We are facing a second spike of the Corona virus.   Just as life was beginning to look normal again, whatever that means, we have new lockdown restrictions, which impact our social activities, face to face worship, and our lives more generally. 

It is easy to get discouraged by such things.  Questions like “what now?” rise, and it seems that there is no relief in sight.

But I would like to look at a few individuals in the scripture, that their “improved” lives took backwards turns they might not have expected. 

Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is one of these.  I am not going to look at too many particular verses, but at an overview to make my point.  Joseph, while a younger son, had dreams in which there seemed to be clear prophecy that he was chosen for greatness.  These dreams suggested that he would have authority of his brothers, and in fact over his parents as well.  Things seemed rosy for Joseph.  Later he finds the favour of his father, and he is given a special garment, marking him out as the favourite.  Life was good to be Joseph, then the setback came.  His brothers in a fit of jealousy beat him and sell him into slavery. 

Does he fall into despair at this unexpected turn?  No.  He works hard and wins favour with his master.  He becomes the lead and most trusted servant.  All is good in being Joe again.

But then he comes to the attention of his master’s lustful wife, and being a man of integrity he resists.  False accusations follow and he is thrown into prison.  This time it looks like there is no way out.  Whatever happened to those dreams?  But even there he became favoured.  God remained with him, because he remained with God.  He eventually through more God-centeredness becomes all his dreams predicted, becoming second only to Pharaoh.

There is a lesson in this.  Exodus shows us the same in reverse as well.  God had rescued the Jews with a mighty hand through a series of plagues, and the parting of a sea.  But as soon as the people come up against adversity, they see only the problem, not the solution.  The spies had seen that the Promised Land was good, but all they reported back was the setbacks of walled cities and giants before them.  All except Caleb and Joshua.  They for their part experienced the promise. 

Do we look at situations, and only see what is wrong with them?  Job’s friends and wife were the same.  His blessed life took a detour as well.  But he trusted God, not curse him.  He received all he lost back and more.

The disciples were no different than the people of Exodus , or Job’s friends.   At what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode in triumph into Jerusalem.   All was looking up. But then came betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and death.  The disciples despaired.  The put themselves in a self-imposed lock-down (there’s that word again).  But it wasn’t the end of the story.

Romans 8:28 says it all – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

We face the re-emergence new measures.  We see our forward progress, being set back. 

My pastor, back when I was a teenager, told a story about him in college.  He played football.  And in one game, with them trailing by only three points, he received a pass and dodged and weaved his way through the opposition.  Things were looking up, glory was on its way.  Well until he was tackled on the 3 yard line as time ran out.  He was at a Christian university, and as he returned despondent to the bench, his coach asked him a question that changed the course of his life.  He asked, “What does it mean in eternity?”

Our lives may be having setbacks right now, but remember ALL things work together for good!

Padre

Weapons of Faith

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What are the strongholds that we must face each day?  Are they hatred, jealousy, dependence, or disease?   Maybe there is a particular foe which rears its head – just for you!

The Apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth and reminded them that as we face opposition in life – whether to our faith, or to us personally we are not to battle them as the world does.  He wrote:

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:4-5).”*

There are loads of applications to this.   On the face of it, he notes in reverse order, that our own thoughts may be an issue.  This may be doubt, worry, or despair.  But these can be altered – “taken captive” – by making our minds obedient to Christ, and in subjection to His will.  In so doing all we will focus on is His promises – and therein lies the root of the battle.

He also notes that there are “arguments and pretensions.”  These are often direct or implied attacks on our faith.  Gainsaying a belief in anything other that “science” and other empirical based systems is common place.  Yet these at best are no more comfort than believing nothing.  But as people of faith we can hold firm to promises which were made and manifested when Jesus physically walked upon this Earth.   As the hymn puts it “all else is sinking sand.”

Then there are those strongholds.  Whether they be principalities or powers they cannot not stand in the face of the Almighty.  We are armed and equipped by Him (Ephesians 6:10-18).  

My wife Dianne saw this (yes I bet some of you were wondering when I would bring her into this).  He battle was with cancer and fatigue.  She fought both in the worldly way – with medicine, doctors, and a strict diet.  But she did not put her trust in hose alone.  She realised that it was in God’s plan when to call her home.  If she had invested all in the way the world did, despair might well have set in as she began to decline, and the doctors said there was no more they could do.  But she did not despair, she was faithful and above all else positive to the very last.  Why?  Because she took captive every thought to made it obedient to Christ.  She used not the weapons of the world, but the stronghold busters of the Lord.

Padre

*From Dianne’s notes 23 November 2018.

The Mauler

Person, Young, Teen, Sad, Alone, Bullied

image: Pixabay

Christopher Miller, or “The Mauler” as he liked to style himself had had a productive day.  He had relieved three different Year Sevens of their lunch money,  locked Billy Taylor into a stationery cupboard, and intimidated Tommy Wilson so well that he wet himself so that he was laughed at by the entire class.

The extra half an hour Christopher had to remain behind after school was well worth it.  After all, The Mauler was becoming a legend.   He was five foot – eleven and only in Year Nine, a little on the heavy side, but with an attitude that meant no one would ever mention it.  Who would be so stupid as to dare?  The Mauler was a force to be reckoned with.

The other reason to have appreciated the after school detention was now overshadowing him.  Christopher slowed his pace, as he approached the un-kept front garden of his council house – home.

He opened the front door as silently as he could, and tried to make a quick escape to his room.

“Where have you been, you little s**t,” a gruff drunken voice barked from the lounge.

“School, Da,” he replied.

“That was over an hour ago, what you been up to?”

“Nothin’ Da,” he said pleadingly.

“Did you remember my fags?” his father boomed.

“No Da, I put them in the kitchen.”

“Bring ’em here,” his father ordered.

Christopher braced himself and carried the pack of Marlboroughs to his father.  The man snatched them from his hand, and then laid a heavy slap upon his head with the other hand.  “Don’t be late again!” the giant of a man roared.

“No Da, I won’t,” Christopher said quietly.

Christopher was not the only Mauler in the Miller clan.

 

Padre

*All characters named in this post or fictional, though the conditions and actions cited are all too real in society in general.  Bullying generating bullying, abuse manifesting in violence.  We need to be aware.

 

Sunday Writing Prompt “Character Archetypes”

 

Why?

Argument, Angry, Silhouette, Boss, Client, Dispute

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay  

 

Why is it that some instigate, incite, and connive?

Creating rifts and obstacles, so many just contrived –

They feel they are entitled to bring upon others pain –

Then they act all contrite; and innocence then they feign.

 

Why is it that so few build-up, encourage, or cheer?

Helping others surmount their worries or their greatest fears.

Giving just a moment to rectify misunderstandings great or small,

Aiding others in their wants, and open hurts so raw.

 

Why do we pass by silently, when these things we see?

Ignoring chances to speak up or aiding others to agree –

Be it politics or relationships, do we really need to divide?

I leave that with you now,  it’s for you to decide.

 

Padre

 

 

 

Inspiration Call: Word Prompt Wednesday – Why?

FOWC with Fandango — Instigate

FOWC with Fandango — Surmount

FOWC with Fandango — Raw

FOWC with Fandango — Rectify

 

When You Can’t Even See the End

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Solomon ends the book of Ecclesiastes with the words, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14).”  

Fear here is not a terror or horror, but a worshipful awe and respect of His greatness.  He is greater than the world.  He is greater than the nastiness of the world.  He is greater than negative situations.  Job came to understand this.  For all of his plights, he still acknowledged God as God.  He did as Solomon observed: he respected God.

I recently watched a dramatization of Elie Wiesel’s The Trail of God. The speaker against God made God the author of the famine that led the Jews into slavery.  He made the death of the Egyptians during the Exodus and act of evil.  He showed Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as an act of moral cowardliness to an unjust demand.  The speaker concluded that “God is not good, He is merely on our side.”   He then went on to say that God in the face of the Holocaust wasn’t even that anymore.

I cannot accept such a view.  My trials are not those of Job, and I am not nearly as upright as him.  I have lost a child, I am (apart from an intervention from God) soon to lose my wife.  I suffer the stresses of this situation, and anxiety over the need to work to pay the bills, and regret daily the need to do so, when all I want to do is spend every remaining moment with her.

I could rail against God.  I could easily say that the situation is unfair (and yes, it does seem to be that our share of suffering is greater than most), but to do so would not do away with the fact that suffering is part of life.  Fair means in its simplest form “even or equal” and yes, mine is more than most (in my secure British home).  But such suffering is not unknown to human kind as a whole.

I do not have any answers here.  Despite decades of theological training, I can offer no more than what Solomon and Job did – in the end God is still God.  But there is a comfort in Jesus’ reminder,  that  that very God cares for every sparrow, how much more me.

Padre

Never Alone

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Brother Derek brought us an important reminder of God’s promises this week.  He spoke on the theme of God’s everlasting presence in our lives, and that this is assured as He is true in keeping His promises.

Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28: 19-20).”  How powerful!  Jesus in His parting words to His disciples not only gives them a mission, but promises to remain with them to the end of the age!  His followers are not to be abandoned or left to fend for themselves.  This mirrors His previous declaration in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  We followers of The Way have Jesus as our companion throughout our walks.

In a parallel passage, the people of Israel were told (though it has a prophetic tie to those of us grafted in as well), “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.  I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41: 8-10).”

God made a covenant with Abraham, and this was reinforced with Moses.  He (God) would be their God, and they His people.  God as we have noted is true to His promises.  People often get it wrong.  Humanity did in the garden, and even when as a group we had totally reneged on our role on Earth, God redeemed Noah.  So too, when Israel messed up (in the desert, at Ai, in the face of the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc., etc.).  He remained their God.

We can often feel abandoned.  But this is a false assumption.  Look at Israel.  They brought most all of their own misfortune in Old Testament times upon themselves.  Yet, God raised up Judges, Prophets, and Kings to lead them back.  And once again on the “straight and narrow,” they were restored.

But God then went that step further.  He sent not another mere prophet, but Messiah (His own only Son).  And why?  To die for us!  An ultimate act of compassion.  Brother Derek made an important point here.  Even this act of sacrifice was not an end point.  Yes, dying for us is beyond comprehension, but He did so because we were not merely servants but friends.  And better still, Jesus did not remain dead, but rose!

He died for us, but He then opened the gates of Heaven for us.  Death itself was defeated, and He has gone to prepare a place for us – His friends.  He is there, watching over us.  Watching over, guiding, and protecting – even to the end of the age.  We are not abandoned.

All too often though, we forget this.  We let the setbacks in life overwhelm us and make us moan or even doubt.  Jonah did. Job did.  Sadly, Judas did.  Derek reminded us, that as long as we have breath and repent, we have the faithful promise of forgiveness.  Jonah got that.  Peter got that at the lakeside, but Judas succumbed to the despair of his sin.  We need to rest on the promise.

We may again feel insignificant, but God sees us as we are, and in the relationship (remember He is with us always) lifts us up to our potential.  The shepherd boy, David, overlooked even by his own father was not overlooked by God.  He was lifted up to kingship!

So too, Job.  While abandoned by his wife, facing the judgement of his “friends,” and suffering the loss of family, wealth, and health – he was not abandoned by God.  God forbade that Job be killed, and when the man continued to be trusting, even in the face of all that beset him, God lifted him up, and restored all he had lost, and was given even more.

Stresses and trials may test us, but we can be assured – we are loved and He is with us.

Padre

Great Sustainer

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God is the Great Sustainer.  There are many things in life that overwhelm.  There are sustainers which attempt to help us through these trials, but ultimately – these while talented and well-meaning still fall short of providing us with “peace that is beyond all understanding.”

Cancer treatment is a great case in point. Oncologists are generally suburb in what they do – treating the symptoms of cancer.  They may through their God-given skills and talents arrest the disease, and even reverse it by either physically removing it from the body, or “killing” it within.  What they don’t do generally in their limited focus on the “disease” is tell the patients what the consequences of treatment are.  “We will beat this,” sounds great, but it means we will get rid of the tumor.  They really don’t seem to see the effects as “major”, after all you are still alive.  Yes, alive burned from radiation.  Yes, alive with adhesions in your internal organs.  Yes, alive psychologically afraid of all things clinical. Yes, alive but “chemo brained” and forgetful.

These are nonetheless dedicated sustainers of life.  They really do have positive motives, and care for some aspects of well being.  They merely lack a bigger picture, which only God sees.  I as a minister care deeply for the souls and spiritual well-being of those with whom I serve.  I counsel, care, and even cry with people.  I too am a sustainer.  But I am limited.  I can’t treat cancer. I can’t fix your plumbing. I can’t repair your car. Nor, with my limited abilities, would you want me to try.

Each of us sustains those around us in little ways.  Some in even “major” ways (doctors). But all pale in comparison to the Great Sustainer, Who I am in more need of today than ever.

Lord, please sustain us today.

Padre

Faith in the Face of Adversity

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Mark 10:46-52 gives us a wonderful account of faith in the face of adversity.

“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’  ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

Here we have a man living with disability in an age when there was little or no provision for his aid. He is cited as sitting by the roadside begging (the only means of livelihood available to him).  This was a man who understood adversity.

On hearing that Jesus was approaching, he begins to call out to Him for mercy. He is immediately confronted by those nearby to be quiet.  Adversity and opposition again rearing their ugly heads.  But does he give in to his lot, and accept the rebuke? No! He shouts the louder.

This act of faith and persistence captures Jesus’ attention.  He calls Bartimaeus to Him.  There is no hesitation on the blind man’s part. He throws off his cloak, jumps to his feet and goes to the Master.

Jesus’ interestingly (not because he does not know the need) asks the man to state his desire in his own voice (there is a lesson of prayer here). Timaeus’ son clearly states, “I want to see.”  A request Jesus grants, and with an affirmation, “your faith has healed you.”  

The episode closes, not with a celebration on Bartimaeus’ part, but with a continued act of faith –  he “followed Jesus along the road.”

God has offered each of us healing.  We have all suffered adversities. Are we willing, despite the chastisement and disapproval of the world to call out for it? And when we have been healed do we show appreciation in following the One who has made us whole?

Padre

 

When The World Assails

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Most all of us have had bad days. Some have even had rough weeks, or months.  I have written in the past about the loss of a child, but I have not given much detail in the past.  I must note that it was one of, if not the worst, days I have had to experience, especially in its context and circumstances.

I had been away on a conference in April 2014, and arrived home later than had been expected.  My wife and step-daughter had waited up for me, and when I arrived home, I was greeted by a wonderful “Daddy!” from my step-daughter.  We had a meal together, then I gave them each a gift I had got for them on the trip. And Ana went off to bed in a very cheery mood.

Next day my wife and I spent much of the morning and early afternoon chilling in the lounge.  Our conversation eventually went to the fact that Ana hadn’t come down yet.  She had been suffering from insomnia, so we initially took it as a good sign that she was able to sleep.  But, as the day drew on, we called to her, and their was no response.  I went up to check on her and found her lifeless in her bed.  She was dressed in the new t shirt I had gotten her as a gift, and she had passed in her sleep, she was 22.  There was nothing I could do.  She had been gone for hours.

My and her mother’s world collapsed.  There were days of confusion, mind slips, and tears.  We had lost a treasure, but held on to God.  Though prayer was hard, and the presence of the Lord at times seemed far away, we held on to His promises.

We had barely come to terms with her loss, when a month to the day later, my wife’s adoptive mother passed.  This created even more hurt, and trials of a legal kind in regards to arrangements, and the estate.

Our world was in limbo, and the stress was great, and in June it took its toll when I suffered a heart attack.  Life does at times assail.  But God’s love is sufficient.  I did mend, but the trials of life had not relented.  We were just starting to put our lives back into order when in October 2015 my wife was diagnosed with advanced cancer.  We entered into the world of hospitals, chemo, and radiation.  The treatments themselves have caused massive health issues through side effects. Our trials continue until even now.

Scripture tells us that He will not put more onto us than we can endure.  I can attest to this.  I have hurt, cried, and pleaded with Him in the last 3 and half years.  Through it all He does remain – Good.

On Sunday, the worship centred on the sufficiency of God in our lives.  “He that is in us” is greater than the trials of the world.  This is especially moving, as our worship leader, my dear brother Joe, is now in the kind of trials which I have come through (above).  Will my readers please raise up Joe and his wife Claire in their prayers, for their continued faith, strength, and example as Joe awaits word on the health of his father.  We hold him up for prayer as well.

I am strengthened, and encouraged that Brother Joe, not only continues to lead worship (even in his distress), but he does so in a way to lift up others.

When the world assails, let us remember to turn to Him who is greater than the world.

Padre

 

Joseph’s Dilemma

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The Angel Gabriel had brought Mary the announcement of her role in God’s plan.  She has accepted the call, but faced now telling her betrothed the news of her pregnancy. He was now placed in a dilemma. His virgin fiancee was with child.  He hadn’t touched her.  She must have cheated.  The law is clear, she should be stoned. But she claims there is an angel involved.  An angel!?! Right! But, maybe.  He loves her.  He doesn’t want her to die.  Maybe a quiet divorce. That might do.

Pastor Vince brought a really thoughtful message on this dilemma which is found in Matthew 1.  Here is a man determined to put his fiancee away quietly.  He literally sleeps on it.  God used the opportunity of his slumber to remove all doubts. “20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph has his own divine intervention.  The angel of the Lord not only upholds Mary’s account, but reveals the meaning of the pregnancy to Joseph. Pastor Vince noted that Mary and Joseph are prototypes in their transformation by the gospel.  Mary of the openness to God’s call, and her surrender to it. Joseph of one who was willing to look beyond skepticism and the “impossibility” of it all, and to accept faith beyond reason.

Joseph’s response to the dream is instant and decisive. He, “raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” He also, follows the instructions of the angel, and names his stepson – Jesus!  

There had been a 400 year “silence of heaven” in which there seems to be no prophet in Israel.  We often cite John as the breaker of the silence. But here we have Joseph receiving revelation from God. This revelation provided a testimony of Messiah’s mission, and names to be fulfilled.  Joseph acted on the call as much as Mary did, and they are wonderful models of how we should respond as well.

Thank you Vince, for drawing my focus onto this, it is a great challenge to be ready to answer the call.

Padre